How long are we going to continue the charade of calling Ambedkar the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’ when the ‘Father’ himself repeatedly disowned the ‘child’?
Excerpts of an article by Sudheendra Kulkarni recently published on The Quint…
BJP, Congress in Race to ‘Glorify’ Ambedkar: Let’s Talk Facts
- Q: Do you think democracy will survive in India?
- A: No. It will remain only in a formal sense. Five-yearly elections, prime minister, etc.
- Q: What do you mean when you say democracy will remain only in a formal sense?
- A: Democracy will not work in India because its social system is totally incompatible with parliamentary democracy.
- Q: Your prime minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) has been making many speeches against the caste system.
- A: These endless speeches! You know when Carlyle was presented with a set of volumes by Spencer, he said, “Oh, this endless speaking Ass in Christiandom…”. I am sick of speeches. We have to have action.
- Q: What can be an alternative to democracy in India?
- A: Some form of communism can be an alternative.
- Q: Do you think the system of parliamentary democracy will collapse?
- A: Yes, parliamentary democracy will collapse in India.
The above is a small excerpt from a rare, and recently discovered, five-minute footage of an interview BBC TV had conducted, in June 1953, with a prominent Indian leader. …
‘I Shall Be the First Person to Burn the Constitution’
As a matter of fact, the same leader, within three months of that BBC interview, had minced no words – in fact, he had used literally incendiary words – in showing his total lack of faith in the Indian Constitution. He had told the Rajya Sabha on 2 September 1953:
Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.
Who was that leader? Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Howsoever great a leader may be – and Ambedkar was without the slightest doubt a great leader, a towering scholar and a fearless social reformer – she or he cannot be immune to objective scrutiny based on verifiable historical facts. Sadly, India in the past few decades has built such a pervasive personality cult around Ambedkar that critical evaluation of his thoughts and deeds is not just discouraged, but also not tolerated. It is not that indefensible facts about his ideology and politics are unknown to today’s academicians, mediapersons and politicians. The internet has made them easily and widely accessible. Nevertheless, there is an atmosphere of fear, intolerance and coercion created by a vocal section of his followers among some of the “lower castes”, who have elevated Ambedkar to the status of a deity.
In this climate of hero-worship, to make even the mildest criticism of Ambedkar is to invite the abuse of being “anti-Dalit” and “Manuvadi”.
As a result, there is a kind of unwritten societal censorship coupled with self-censorship in our universities, media organisations and, above all, in our political parties, which bars them from a balanced debate on Ambedkar.
All political parties, mostly for vote bank considerations, have joined the race to glorify Ambedkar, without ever bothering to check the facts ─ indeed, by negating or downplaying the weighty contributions of other social reformers and nation-builders. Indeed, all of them have now placed him above Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of India’s Freedom Movement by projecting him not only as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution (which he was not) but also as the chief architect of modern India itself (which, too, he is not).
PM Modi Beats All in Memorializing Ambedkar
Worse still, there is an ongoing rivalry between the BJP and the Congress over who has done more to “honour” Ambedkar. This is most clearly seen from the recent speeches and decisions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP-led government, at the Centre and in Maharashtra, has spent, and pledged, incomparably more funds on building memorials for Ambedkar than in honour of other great Indian heroes and martyrs.
Within a span of four months, Modi has inaugurated two swanky centres in the national capital ─ Dr Ambedkar International Centre on Janpath and Dr Ambedkar National Memorial at 26, Alipur Road.
In Mumbai, a massive memorial is being planned at Chaityabhoomi. The Maharashtra government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis, has also spent a large sum on acquiring the house in London in which Ambedkar lived as a student, and converting it into a museum.
All this is happening when the monuments associated with many other great Indians from the pre and post-Independence era have become victims of utter neglect and gross under-funding.
A Badly-Battered Congress has Jumped the Bandwagon
On the other hand, today’s Congress party is showing neither the intellectual capability and courage nor historical knowledge to subject Ambedkar’s legacy to a critical scrutiny.
By hailing him as the architect of the Constitution, today’s Congressmen are whitewashing their own party’s far more substantial and enduring contribution to Constitution-making, to building the robust edifice of parliamentary democracy, and to safeguarding secularism in India. Ambedkar was a bitter critic and foe of the Congress throughout his public life. Like Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, he ridiculed the Congress as a “Hindu party”. Yet, he also shared many of the anti-Congress Hindutva leaders’ prejudices about Islam and Muslims. His role in the struggle for Hindu-Muslim harmony ─ a key cornerstone of the Idea of India and the Indian Constitution ─ pales in comparison with that of Gandhi, Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and others.
Today’s history-illiterate Congress leaders should read his two book-length writings ‘What Congress and Gandhi have to the Untouchables’ and ‘Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables’ (Vol 9, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches) to know how vituperative ─ and wrong in many places ─ he was towards the party that was in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle.
For the Congress, freedom from the British rule, an Indian Constitution by Indians, and developing free India on the foundations of parliamentary democracy and secularism were inter-related projects.
Gandhi, Nehru and many other progressive Congress leaders genuinely believed that India’s iniquitous social system can be gradually reformed by building strong institutions of parliamentary democracy on one hand, and, on the other, by promoting social reform activities of non-political organisations. In this, history has proved them right and Ambedkar wrong.
Sadly, the Congress is today so badly battered on the political and electoral fronts that, instead of defending its own ideology and proud legacy, it has chosen to join the BJP and other parties in Ambedkar’s hero-worship.
I repeat: Ambedkar deserves our respect on many counts, above all for giving a shock treatment to the Hindu society by warning us about the evil of untouchability and the chains of dependence and injustice that had enslaved the depressed castes.
Many of his thoughts on democracy ─ especially the need to align political democracy with social and economic democracy ─ are also highly enlightened, and relevant even today.
However, should we turn a blind eye, as has happened in contemporary India, to the glaring flaws in his thoughts and politics? Should we bury or falsify the true history of the making of the Indian Constitution behind the personality cult around Ambedkar? Is doing so good for India’s democracy and for a healthy intellectual-political discourse in our country?
But I have not yet advanced the facts that demolish the myth that Ambedkar was the Father of the Indian Constitution. For that, read the next part of this article – ‘Was Ambedkar the architect of India’s Constitution? Ten facts, and his own repeated disclaimers, prove otherwise’
Ambedkar the Architect of Constitution? His Words Prove Otherwise
“He that WILL NOT reason is a bigot
He who CANNOT reason is a fool
He who DARE NOT reason is a slave”
This quote by the Canadian poet WH Drummond appears on the opening page of Dr BR Ambedkar’s celebrated book ‘Annihilation of Caste – With A Reply to Mahatma Gandhi’. One of his finest qualities was that he was both fearless and fiercely wedded to reason. Therefore, invoking the same spirit that is embedded in the dictum ‘He who DARE NOT reason is a slave’, I shall counter the pervasive personality cult that has been erected around Ambedkar by politicians, intellectuals and large sections of the media.
Almost the sole basis for the personality cult and the grand memorialising of Ambedkar, which has now reached a crescendo, is that he is regarded as the creator of the Indian Constitution. But was he?
“I Was a Hack. What I Was Asked to Do, I Did Much Against My Will.”
Let us glean the truth from facts and reason:
Fact 1: Ambedkar told the British Viceroy Wavell on 5 April 1946: “If India became independent, it would be one of the greatest disasters that could happen,” (Transfer of Power, Vol VII, pp. 144-47). He claimed that “Swaraj (India under freedom) cannot but be a Hindu Raj” (Writings and Speeches, Vol 9, p. 393).
History has proved him wrong on both counts ─ neither has independence been a disaster nor has the Constitution of Free India given any legitimacy to the Hindu Raj.
Fact 2: Ambedkar insisted that India did not need a Constituent Assembly. “It is absolutely superfluous. I regard it as a most dangerous project.” He preferred the Government of India Act 1935 itself to be turned into the Constitution with some modifications (Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, pp. 360-1).
Fact 3: The All India Scheduled Castes Federation (led by Dr Ambedkar) even considered boycotting the Constituent Assembly, in the same way that the Muslim League actually did (Transfer of Power, Vol VII, pp.197-98).
Fact 4: Ambedkar was not in favour of the one-man-one-vote principle, which underpins the working of parliamentary democracy in India (Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, p. 413). He also disapproved of the concept of territorial constituencies, which has been adopted by the Indian Constitution and the constitutions of most democracies around the world (Writings and Speeches, Vol 9, p. 396).
Fact 5: Ambedkar insisted, as late as in March 1947 (that is, after the Constituent Assembly had already been established on 9 December 1946), that the interests of the Scheduled Castes would not be safe in independent India unless they got “separate electorates”. (Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, p. 401) It may seem unbelievable today, but he had even demanded “separate villages” for SCs. Resolution No IV titled ‘Separate Settlements’, passed at the All India Scheduled Castes Conference in Nagpur in July 1942 (Writings and Speeches, Vol 9, p. 393), states: “The Constitution should provide for the transfer of the Scheduled Castes from their present habitation and form separate Scheduled Caste villages away from and independent of Hindu villages.”
Did the Constitution of India, supposedly fathered by Ambedkar, incorporate either of the two demands ─ namely, “Separate Electorates” and “Separate Villages” for SCs? Obviously not. So does this mean Ambedkar created the Constitution? Obviously not.
It is important remember here that this demand for separate electorates for SCs was stoutly opposed by Mahatma Gandhi. He had even gone on an indefinite fast in September 1932 to protest both against this demand and also against the practice of untouchability. The result was the ‘Poona Pact’, which rejected the idea of separate electorates. The Constituent Assembly also rejected it. Thus, Gandhiji and the wise makers of the Indian Constitution saved India’s democracy from a potentially toxic and ruinous idea.
Fact 6: Throughout India’s struggle for freedom from British rule, Ambedkar had been a bitter critic of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress party. Yet, adopting an inclusive and far-sighted approach, the Congress, as advised by Gandhiji, made him the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly. The committee’s task was very clear. In Ambedkar’s own words, it was “charged with the duty of preparing a Constitution in accordance with the decisions of the Constituent Assembly on the reports made by the various committees…” (Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol VII, p. 31). In other words, Constitution-making was a collective effort.
Ambedkar was by no means its sole or even the main author, even though he too made a valuable contribution, which was duly recognised by all other members.
Therefore, to give full credit to him alone is to do a grave disservice to the enormous contribution to Constitution-making by Nehru and Sardar Patel (both of whom headed important committees), besides Rajendra Prasad, BN Rau, SN Mukherjee (the Chief Draftsman to the Assembly) and many others. To know why Nehru’s role in Constitution-making was greater than that of Ambedkar, read one of my previous articles on The Quint.
Fact 7: Several of Ambedkar’s proposals and amendments were rejected by the Constituent Assembly. Indeed, the accepted proposals and amendments of other members form the bulk of the Constitution (B. Shiva Rao, Framing of India’s Constitution, Selected Documents, Vol II, p. 398).
Fact 8: How many people know that Ambedkar did not want to give political rights to the Scheduled Tribes (he called them ‘Aboriginal Tribes’), equal to those of the Scheduled Castes? In his address to the session of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation in Bombay on 6 May 1945, he states the “reasons why I have omitted them from my scheme”.
The Aboriginal Tribes have not as yet developed any political sense to make the best use of their political opportunities and they may easily become mere instruments in the hands of either a majority or a minority, and thereby disturb the balance without doing any good to themselves.
BR Ambedkar, as quoted in Writings and Speeches, Vol 1, p. 375.
A majority of the makers of the Indian Constitution did not agree with Ambedkar’s view and provided equal rights and protections to STs.
Fact 9: To know how substantially the Indian Constitution differs from the one of Ambedkar’s conception, one has to only take a careful look at his book ‘States and Minorities ─ What are Their Rights and How to Secure Them in the Constitution of Free India’. It was presented by him as the ‘Memorandum on the Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation’ on 15 March 1947. It is important to note that this was before he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee on 29 December 1947. It was actually written in the form of the ‘Constitution of the United States of India’. Neither the name and the preamble, nor most of the substantive points in Ambedkar’s ‘Constitution’, found a place in the final text of the Indian Constitution, which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949.
Fact 10: The most important point in Ambedkar’s ‘Constitution’, which was summarily turned down by the Indian Constitution, was his demand that the scheduled castes be treated as a “minority”.
Lastly, isn’t it supremely ironic that, whereas all the political parties today are competing with one another in eulogising Ambedkar as the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’, he himself had put the record straight by disclaiming its authorship?
For further proof, let us return to the same Rajya Sabha debate in 1953, in which he had said, “I shall be the first person to burn the Constitution”. In that debate he also made the following revealing admission:
Now, sir, we have inherited a tradition. People always keep on saying to me: ‘Oh, you are the maker of the Constitution.’ My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.
This is truly extraordinary. Here is a person who is honest and candid to the extreme in admitting that he was a mere “hack” who did what he was “asked to do”, that too much against his will. Indeed, what he did was so much against his will that he was even prepared to destroy the Constitution since “it does not suit anybody”.
Why Ambedkar Said He’d Burn the Constitution: “Because the Devil has Occupied” Parliament!
One of Ambedkar’s praiseworthy qualities was that he was not a hypocrite, nor did he try to erase his own words to escape from a difficult situation. His scathing criticism of the Constitution had raised many an eyebrow, and the matter came up for discussion again in the Rajya Sabha on 19 March 1955. Dr Anup Singh, a member from Punjab, asked Ambedkar: “Last time when you spoke, you said that you would burn the Constitution.”
Ambedkar was forthright in his reply.
Do you want a reply to that? I would give it to you right here. My friend says that the last time when I spoke, I said that I wanted to burn the Constitution. Well, in a hurry I did not explain the reason. Now that my friend has given me the opportunity, I think I shall give the reason. The reason is this: We built a temple for the god to come in and reside, but before the god could be installed, if the devil had taken possession of it, what else could we do except destroy the temple? We did not intend that it should be occupied by the Asuras. We intended it to be occupied by the Devas. That’s the reason why I said I would rather like to burn it.
This statement of Ambedkar deserves to be examined from many angles, not the least important of which is how he uses the Hindu metaphor of Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons). But let us limit our examination to what he said about the Constitution and its offspring, Parliament. Not even three years had elapsed after the first ever elections to the Lok Sabha in 1952, and the Constitution itself was only five years in existence, and yet Ambedkar had already come to the hasty and egregious conclusion that India’s Temple of Democracy had been occupied by the devil and needed to be destroyed.
How intemperate! How unbecoming of a leader credited with fathering the Indian Constitution! No less unbecoming is how Ambedkar maligned Nehru, indirectly calling him an “ass”, in his BBC interview in 1953. A likely reason for these undignified utterances is that he had been defeated twice in his attempts to enter the Lok Sabha ─ in the general elections in 1952 (from Bombay) and from a by-election in 1954 (from Bhandara, Maharashtra).
Let us ─ and we must ─ give credit where it is due. Ambedkar has made an immense (though not exclusive) contribution in modern times to the cause of ending untouchability and instilling dignity and self-pride among the socially oppressed people in Indian society.
He also played a significant (though not exclusive) role in preparing the Indian Constitution as the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly.
But how long are we going to continue the charade of calling Ambedkar the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’ when the ‘Father’ himself repeatedly disowned the ‘child’?
The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is the author of Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni.
This article was first published on The Quint on 22 April 2018